Keshavananda Bharti vs State of Kerala, 1973

Case laws:- “Keshavananda Bharti vs State of Kerala, 1973”.

Submitted by:

Ananya Tripathi


University of Petrolium and Energy Studies, Dehradun.


This case is a landmark judgement of Supreme Court of India. Restricted but upheld is the ability of Parliament to alter. “Basic Structure of Doctrine” was introduced, which states that Parliament cannot change the main features of the Constitution, such as federalism and secularism which is mentioned in Constitution of India. Because of the 24th Amendment which does not break the fundamental framework, it is legitimate. The significance maintained the fundamental values of the Constitution by establishing an essential check on Parliament’s modifying authority to the state. Lastly, this paper involves around the question whether ‘basic structure doctrine’ was the ratio of Keshavananda Bharati case or it was the move of pronouncing ‘the view of the majority’ by “Chief Justice Sikri” that gave ‘basic structure of doctrine’, the effect of a ratio, also this paper analyses the eleven opinions delivered by thirteen judges and their critique by various jurists and legal luminaries along with the inputs from the author’s references.


Keshavananda Bharti, India, basic structure of India, constitutional law, federalism & secularism.


The Keshavananda Bharati verdict, also called as the “Keshavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala”, 1973 the case; was a significant ruling by the Indian Supreme Court that delineated the fundamental structural theory of the Indian Constitution. The case is also referred to as the Fundamental Rights Case. The court upheld its authority to invalidate the constitutional changes that deviated from the basic framework of the document by a vote of 7 to 6. By virtue of the basic Structure concept, Justice Hans Raj Khanna argued that the principles and ideals of the constitution are organised into a fundamental framework. Partially upholding the earlier ruling in “Golaknath vs State of Punjab”, here the Court determined that the constitutional revisions made under “Article 368” which were subjected to the basic rights of the citizens. Yet only as far as they were able to influence the “fundamental structure of the Constitution.” The Court also maintained the validity of “Article 31-C”, which is said to be that modifications aimed at putting the Directive Principles into effect that don’t change the “Basic Structure” which could not be subject to the judicial scrutiny. The concept serves as the foundation for the Indian judiciary’s authority to examine and overrule modifications which is made to the Indian Constitution by the Indian parliament itself. The nature of an individual’s fundamental rights or duties of any restrictions on the authority of elected representatives of the people, were topics of discussion for the 13-judge Supreme Court Constitution bench. The court ruled in a 7–6 decision that, despite the Parliament’s “wide” powers, it lacked the authority to weaken the core provisions of the constitution of India. Therefore, the majority bench’s fundamental fear, evident when this case was decided at peak point, the responsible action by elected officials could not be relied upon. In addition, the Keshavananda verdict overturned earlier rulings that implied that Parliament might limit property rights in the name of land reform and the allocation of vast landholdings to the farmers. So, this case represented the conclusion of many issues pertaining to restrictions on the ability to modify the Indian Constitution. India’s state legislatures and Parliament both have the authority to enact laws inside their own borders, as stated in the Indian Constitution. Where this power is not unqualified and the judiciary is granted the authority by the Constitution to determine whether any statute is constitutional or not. The Supreme Court can declare a statute passed by Parliament or state legislatures to be illegal if it breaches any provision of the Constitution of India. Despite this check, the authors of the constitution intended to be a flexible instrument for governing rather than a strict set of rules. Thus, the authority to change the Constitution was granted to Parliament and constitution’s “Article 368” conveys the idea that Parliament has unrestricted authority to change the sections of written work. However, since the country’s independence, the Supreme Court has served as a check on Parliament’s passion for legislation. The supreme court ruled that Parliament may not, under the guise of altering the Constitution, distort, harm, or change the fundamental elements of the document in order to uphold the original goals that the framers intended. The term ‘fundamental structure’ is not used in the Constitution. This idea was initially acknowledged by the Supreme Court in the landmark Keshavananda Bharati case of 1973. The Court has served as both the adjudicator of all legislatively proposed modifications and the interpreter of the Constitution. Therefore,  on August 10, 1972; the Court granted the motion to alter the writ petition and to urge new reasons. The Advocates-General were notified to come before the Court and participate in the proceedings as directed.


The leader of a Kerala religious organisation, Keshavananda Bharati, contested the Kerala Property Reforms Act, which is the limited amount of property that  is religious organisations which may acquire. Although, in other hand, the Indian Parliament introduced the 24th Amendment act, which restricted the scope of basic rights and judicial review in administrative law.


This case also known as the Fundamental Rights of the case given in Constitutional law and Administrative law, “Keshavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala” is undoubtedly one of the most significant rulings in post-independence India’s legal history, if not the most significant case in the country’s constitutional history. Whereas, Ray J, Palekar J, Mathew J, Beg J, Dwivedi J, Chandrachud J, and S.M. Sikri C. J. dissented from the majority ruling in the matter, which was rendered by Hegde J, Mukherjea J, Shehlat J, Grover J, Jaganmohan Reddy J, and Khanna J. It is accurate to state that the decision in this particular case ended the battle between the government and the courts and saved the nation’s democratic system. The ruling that was rendered in the case. S.M. Sikri C. J., Hegde J., Mukherjea J., Shehlat J., Grover J., Jaganmohan Reddy J., Khanna J., and Ray J., Palekar J., Mathew J., Beg J., Dwivedi J., and Chandrachud J. dissented from the majority ruling in the case. According to accurate accounts, the ruling in this particular case ended the dispute between the government and the judiciary and saved the nation’s democratic system. N.A. Palkhivala and H.M. Seervai, two legal luminaries and constitutional stalwarts, engaged in a fierce court struggle that culminated in the case’s verdict. On the other hand, sixty-eight exhausting days of hearings, a lengthy 703-page ruling was issued in the case which is announced on April 24, 1973.


13 Judge bench; Chief Justice S. M. Sikri, Justice J.M.Shelat, Justice K.S. Hegde, Justice A.N.Grover, Justices A.N.


The head pontiff of the Endear Mutt, a monastic religious organisation situated in Kerala’s Kasaragod district, was Keshavananda Bharati. Bharati possessed some land in the Mutt. The Land Reforms Amendment Act was passed in 1969 by the state government of Kerala. This Act permitted the government to purchase a portion of the Mutt’s land. Bharati filed a petition with the Supreme Court in March 1970, whereas, citing Section 32 of the Constitution of India, to uphold his rights as stipulated by the articles given below-:

  • Article 25: deals with “right to practice and propagate the religion”.
  • Article 26: deals with right to manage religious affairs.
  • Article 14: deals with right to equality.
  • Article 19(1)(g): the ability to purchase property.
  • Article 31: Compulsory to buy any property.
  • Act of 1971, the 24th Amendment to the Constitution.
  • Act of 1972, the 25th Amendment to the Constitution.

Therefore, as court was considering the case, the state government of Kerala passed another law, ie., the Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1971. The petitioners presented arguments that challenged the legality of certain modifications enacted by the Parliament to undo the consequences of Golaknath v. State of Punjab. The legitimacy of the twenty-fourth, twenty-fifth, and twenty-ninth amendments to the constitution was specifically contested by the petitioners.


  • Does the following have constitutional validity.
  • The degree to which the Parliament may use its authority to make constitutional amendments.
  • Was there no limit to Parliament’s ability to change the Constitution.
  • Could the Parliament modify, revise, or repeal any section of the Constitution, even if it is meant eliminating all the basic rights.


The Court created the idea of the Constitution’s “basic structure”. This theory propound that there are limitations on Parliament’s ability to change the Constitution of India. Parliament cannot change the fundamental framework or structure of the Constitution, despite its amendability. Moreover, The Court affirmed that it has the authority to examine revisions and invalidate any that deviate from the fundamental framework of the document.


To convince me that the idea that the Fundamental Rights were not actually fundamental but rather were meant to be subject to amendment, just like the other provisions of the Constitution, and without the consent of the States, would need more convincing arguments than those made in Sankari Prasad’s case.


All judges upheld the validity of the Twenty-fourth amendment saying that Parliament had the power to amend any provisions of the Constitution of India. All signatories to the summary held that the “Golaknath case” had been decided wrongly and that “Article 368” contained both the power and the procedure for amending the Indian Constitution. Whereas, they made it abundantly evident, that an Indian constitutional amendment differed from a statute in the sense that Article 13 (2) defines it. Also, the Indian Parliament has two distinct roles that must be noted. Firstly, it has the legislative ability to create laws for the nation, and secondly, it has the constituent power to modify the Constitution of India. The opinion that Indian Constitution is amiable like other Acts and legislation was supported by the seven justices.


One of the main tenets of the Indian Constitution is the Basic Structure of Doctrine, which has played a crucial role in safeguarding citizens’ rights and maintaining the essential democratic values. The judicial system’s dedication to preserving the Constitution and the tenacity of India’s democratic institutions are demonstrated by the formation of the system in the Keshavananda Bharati case. The fundamental structure theory was first articulated by the Supreme Court on April 24, 1973, in a historic decision. The provisions covered by the fundamental structural concept are unchangeable since it is a blanket theory. The Supreme Court dismissed the Golaknath case, ruling that while the Parliament may change any provision of the Constitution, it must not alter the fundamental framework of the document or it would be deemed unconstitutional. The Supreme Court enumerated some characteristics that constitute a fundamental structure, which include:-

  1. Constitutional supremacy.
  2. Democratic and Republican systems of governance.
  3. The Constitution is a secular document.
  4. The division of the powers among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.

So; this is by no means a comprehensive list, in other instances, the characters that follow have been recognised as the fundamental framework of the Constitution.


1. Keshavananda Bharati: who was he?

Kerala’s Endear Mutt was led by Swami Keshavananda Bharati, a religious leader. The Mutt contested the constitutionality of the Kerala land reform legislation in court since they affected the property he controlled.

2. About what was the case in question?

Under Articles 25 “right to profess and spread religion” and article 26 “right to govern religious matters” of the Constitution, Keshavananda Bharati claimed that the Kerala Land Reforms Act infringed upon his basic rights. He said that the “basic structure” of the Constitution was being weakened by these government-made revisions.

3. What was the verdict?

The Supreme Court handed down a historic decision in a closely divided 7–6 decisions. The competence of Parliament to modify the Indian Constitution was maintained by the Court in accordance with “Article 368”. Doctrine of the fundamental Structure: Nonetheless, the Court established the notion of the Constitution’s “basic structure”. There is no way to modify its fundamental foundation. Uncertain Definition: While the ruling did not offer a comprehensive list of elements that make up the fundamental structure, it did highlight certain important components, including democracy, federalism, and secularism.

4. Why is this a significant case?

Indian constitutional law is based on the Keshavananda Bharati case. It created a balance between preserving the Constitution’s fundamental ideas and making amendments to it. This idea guarantees that the Constitution maintains its essential qualities while keeping pace with the modern world.

5. Can changes be made to the Preamble?

The Court’s ruling implies that the Preamble is a crucial component of the framework and probably cannot be altered significantly.


  6. “The basic structure of the Indian Constitution”: e-book compiled by Venkatesh Nayak.

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